Authentic Sexuality v Dressing Like Prostitutes

Hello Kitty thong

Hello Kitty thong

Why do moms let their daughters “dress like prostitutes?” asked Jennifer Moses in a Wall Street Journal piece that got people talking a while back.

Moses thinks it’s because the moms had a sexually free past, which they now regret. “Not one woman I’ve ever asked about the subject,” she declared, “has said that she wishes she’d ‘experimented’ more.”

Well, wouldn’t you want your daughters to NOT look like prostitutes, then? 

Yes, but mom’s don’t want to be hypocrites, she says, so they don’t know how to advise their daughters.

Joyce McFadden, writing in the Huffington Postsees things differently,

I think the real problem is that dressing provocatively is one of the only outlets we allow our daughters to express their sexuality.

McFadden prefers a different approach, though, recommending moms help their daughters to own an authentic sexuality.

Sounds good. But — leaving aside the question of how girls should dress for now — what would authentic sexuality be?

As I see it, authentic sexuality contains many parts.

Authentic sexuality is not shameful

Bombarded with words like slut, skank and whore, it’s easy for sexually interested young women to feel polluted. I’m not aware of even one positive word that specifically communicates women enjoying sexuality. Compounding the problem, when parents avoid discussing the matter with their daughters the silence shows embarrassment. Meanwhile, church elders warn of the untamed libido, but the message can come across as “sex is sinful.” Opposing images of “Madonna and Whore” emphasize the point. Even when sex is forced upon women against their will, they can end up feel shamed, themselves.

Instead, women and girls need to know that sex it is completely natural. Understanding and exploring their bodies and what pleases them is, too.

Authentic sexuality is not a crutch for powerlessness or low self-esteem

More than one commenter on McFadden’s piece felt girls dressed provocativ­ely to gain power over boys, or to simply feel empowered, generally. I’m all for female empowerment. But how much strength is there, really, in drawing the male gaze? Or in gaining a favor here or there? Is this power substantive? Some women may skillfully use their sexuality to manipulate, but manipulation is a weak form of power. It’s what people do when they feel they have no other choice.

Another commenter sees the matter differently: “I’ve worked as a school counselor and there is a difference between girls wearing clothing they are comfortabl­e with and girls who wear clothing to manipulate and have power over boys, which is a self-estee­m issue.”

Really about self-esteem? Maybe that’s right because I don’t see a lot of real power in sexy dressing.

Nothing wrong with feeling good when people find you attractive. But hopefully it’s not a primary source of self-worth. That sort of beauty is all about the surface, and it is fleeting.

Instead, real contributions create real power and substantive esteem.

What else?

Authentic sexuality also involves cutting through the lure of the market, peer pressure, and the flood of images that scream “sexy is” to discover one’s own sexuality and authentic pleasure.

But I’ll save that discussion for next time.

I’m on Spring Break. This is a rerun.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 31, 2014, in body image, feminism, objectification, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. The talk about sexy clothes as ’empowering’, and mothers giving their daughters free choice in what to wear, always makes me ask how many of our choices are actually free. A girl may feel she wants to wear a Hello Kitty thong (!) and a skirt short enough to flash it, but what has made her want to do that? What kind of wanting is it?

    Looking forward to reading your further thoughts!

  2. This is an interesting topic, I am all for letting anyone dress themselves as they see fit, but when I look back at some of the things I wore as a teenager, to be honest I wish my parents had been a bit more conservative and told me to get back inside and get changed into something that covered a bit more skin! I did dress a certain way to try and attract the boys attention and looking back it was because of low self esteem. I felt like I was unattractive but maybe if I dressed sexy enough someone out there would think I was sexy.

    I see it as not really a clear cut issue, people are sexual beings and there is nothing wrong with looking and feeling sexy. I think the important thing is that young girls, or young people are taught that the way you look is just one aspect of who you are, right now it’s like it’s everything. I had my friends young daughters, aged around 8 and 9 tell me recently they wanted to be ‘hot’ when they were older. I hope they have more dreams than that! Like you said, nothing wrong with looking and feeling attractive, as long as that’s not all you feel you are. For one thing there is always going to be someone younger and prettier right behind you, it’s not something to base a long term sense of worth on.

  3. Really good topic! I think intention is everything- am I dressing to sexualize myself or am I dressing as an expression of who I am and part of that is dressing in a way that makes me feel sensual and sexy. So many layers to this and it’s so personal. I personally think authentic sexuality really is more about connecting to our sexuality in our own bodies rather than wearing it on our bodies via clothing.

  4. This is such a touchy subject. I just had a discussion with my father this weekend and he kept on with ‘what do they expect when they dress like that.’ I think we can talk about how good it is for women to embrace their sexuality in a healthy fashion, but it’s going to take society a long time to come to terms with the idea. Which isn’t to say it isn’t worth talking about. In fact, we should talk about stuff like this more. The more people discuss this issues, the sooner we will give birth to a generation of people who, regardless of gender or sexuality, feel no shame for being sexual beings.

  5. Provocative topic! I think to be forced to feel empowered by wearing skimpy clothes…that too is a trap. A trap to herd-mentalize women into believing they are empowered only through someone else’s view of their sexuality. Ultimately, the strength to resist peer pressure has to be inherent.

  6. I’ll have to admit the title of this piece drew me.

    Because I thought, well what do prostitutes dress like? The ones I know all wear pin striped suits, A line skirts, heels and have their hair & faces beautifully made up. Actually they look better than I do going to work.

    However I’m all for teenagers expressing their sexuality – within reason. If my daughter wants to run around with a bandaid on her bottom half and a thong, she can do it at home. Because as much as I’d love to be able to tell her she can wear that kind of thing out, she can’t. As much as I’d love to say that rape culture & slut shamming was a myth, it’s not.

    And until society can catch up, she’s going to have to take consideration in what she wears and I have no fear in having the discussions with her in regards to sexuality, society, rape culture, feminism and everything else that is going to empower her to be secure in herself as a person.

    I came from a generation of sex is bad, we never talk about it. I fielded all my little sisters questions about sex as she was growing up in her teens and I think it’s really important that young children know the risks that are involved with such a decision as becoming sexually active.

  7. When I have seen eight year old girls dressed like eighteen year olds, I have wondered if their mothers are subconsciously creating an image of what they themselves would like to look like.
    Whatever the reason, there is something not quite right about it.

  8. it is such an image that media creates that women younger and older are unconsciously dressed like in teens or in 20s.fashion is a kind of slavery.

  9. interesting topic, in our society now a days girls start worrying about what they look like at a young age, they worry more about what tomorrows outfit will be rather than worrying about tomorrows homework. I myself was like that at a young age I wanted attention even though it was the wrong kind. As a parent you can only enforce “The Dress Code’ so much I remember my parents being so strict I would take a change of clothes to school and wear what I wanted.

    I can see how it would be a bit of a challenge telling your children what to do or not to do in a way where they feel like their able to be themselves and not need to sneak around, I think its important to teach your children to have goals and values so they know their is more things to look forward to than what you look like or what you wear.

  10. Being 19 along with having 3 other sisters all within ages of 17-23, I see this being a very prevalent topic. Having older sisters is hard and being surrounded by attracted girls throughout high school is difficult as well. I think teenagers are just trying to stand out to be seen by not only boys but also girls are trying to one up each other as if it were a competition. But the way young girls dress today is ultimately trying too hard, there truly is a difference between authentic sexuality and dressing like a prostitute. Females should want males to respect them and find them attractive at the same time, rather than finding them “slutty or easy” and I think females are currently giving off the wrong image. Females should wear a top that shows their backs or shorts that are flattering to their legs, not booty shorts or tops that are so deep you get a side boob peak, ect. I think older females have a better concept of this then teenagers today who are just trying to get attention and stand out. Girls should know that a good personality and education is much more valued than a small outfit. If a girl has a nice body, it is better to be subtle about it rather than flaunt it…its more attractive.

  11. I’m sure that most girls don’t want to look like a prostitute when they choose their clothes. On the contrary, they want to be very attractive and sexy. But the problem here is that these girls are under the influence of the stereotype that the more you sexy the more chances for success you have in any fields of your life. These girls just don’t understand that a woman with authentic sexuality stands out in any crowd. And not the manner of dressing, not “calling” make-up and of course not the habit of stroking her thighs or breasts makes a woman really sexy and successful. Authentic sexuality is something subconscious and unexplained, it is woman’s smile, her eyes, her actively emitted fluids of sexuality. And men feel this sexuality at the level of the ancient instincts, likewise they feel feigned and ostentatious sexuality. These girls don’t understand that dressing like prostitutes will not create a desire in men and it will not help them to be successful. On the contrary, they create a mockery and a feeling of pity for the woman who clumsily plays role of sexy woman.

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